Idea of using tolls as revenue source advances in Mississippi

| 2/15/2007

Mississippi Senate lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill that would create tolls along some roads and bridges in the state and give the state another tool to raise revenue.

Sponsored by Sen. Charlie Ross, R-Brandon, the bill would authorize the Mississippi Transportation Commission, county boards of supervisors and city officials to contract with private industry to construct roads and bridges and collect tolls to pay off the work. Local governments also would be allowed to use bonds to finance toll projects.

The Senate voted 51-1 to advance the bill to the House where a similar effort died a year ago in committee.

The bill - SB2375 - doesn't spell out specific toll charges. Those would be determined by MDOT.

Ross' effort would require 20 percent of a county's electorate or 1,500 voters, whichever is less, to call for a referendum on any project. It also would mandate that alternative routes be available so drivers could avoid paying the tolls. Once the bonds for a project were paid off, that toll would be removed.

Officials with the Mississippi Department of Transportation have said they have no immediate plans or desire to build specific toll roads, but would like to keep the door open to the revenue tool, The Sun Herald reported. State law now prohibits toll roads.

Supporters say adding tolls could allow roadwork that would otherwise not be done due to state funding issues. Opponents say toll roads would amount to an extra tax, when fuel and other taxes should cover road building, The Herald reported.